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1120: St Paul's, Holme Eden, Cumbria, England
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St Paul's, Holme Eden, Cumbria, England
Mystery Worshipper: Rafe's Aunt.
The church: St Paul's, Holme Eden, Cumbria, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: An early Victorian spired edifice, built by the Dixon family (as in Dixon's chimney, a local landmark in Carlisle). It is red sandstone, with a slate roof. Inside there is a beautifully carved eagle lectern. The interior is functional, and the small east window has a stained glass of Our Lord. The walls bear many memorials to members of the Dixon family, whose burial plot in the churchyard is chained off.
The church: The church serves several small villages. They generally have two services each Sunday: holy communion in the morning and then either holy communion, evening prayer or informal worship in the evening.
The neighbourhood: The area suffered in the flood of January 2005 and this has necessitated replacement of the heating system. Fortunately the church building is raised from the flood plain. Many of the villagers were less fortunate and their homes were flooded. There doesn't appear to be parking available near the church so we parked in the village and walked. This seems to be the norm.
The cast: The vicar, the Rev. Colin Randall.
What was the name of the service?
Holy Communion.

How full was the building?
There were people in every pew, and the pews were comfortably full rather than overflowing.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
As we went in, we were greeted by a sidesman who appeared so amazed to see visitors that he almost forgot to give us books. We received a handshake and a welcome. Several people came up and spoke to us before the service.

Was your pew comfortable?
Far from it. The pews are very narrow – almost too narrow to sit on. There were embroidered kneelers on a ledge but no space to kneel either. The shelf for books wasn't big enough to hold them – all in all, a rather cramped situation!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
When we went in, a music group were practicing to the piano. We noticed a drum kit behind them, which gave us a few anxious moments. This rehearsal was followed by a time of quiet talk and pleasant organ music. Maybe we shouldn't have arrived so early!

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. Please sit down so I can give the notices. I think I need turning down." (The volume was a bit loud, but no one adjusted it.)

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Complete Mission Praise (hardback) and a local duplicated leaflet with an unfamiliar version of holy communion and more hymns. There were three New International Version Bibles in each pew, and leaflets with the notices for the month, with a tear-off slip that you could fill in to introduce yourself or ask for support, a visit, details of church groups, etc.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ mostly, and the electronic piano for one song that the music group rendered in place of the customary psalm. To our relief the drum kit was not in use.

Did anything distract you?
There were so many apparent inconsistencies during the service. A few examples: It was Easter season yet the altar was dressed in black. The vicar wore no vestments and celebrated in a black stole (not a scarf), yet he used veil and burse which were, as they should be, white. The children were sent off to Sunday school before the gospel and never reappeared. And then, at the moment of communion, somebody turned the kettle on and the rest of the service was accompanied by the hiss of steadily boiling water!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Again, inconsistent. It was as if they were afraid to enjoy themselves too much. Some glorious hymns were sung but in the most boring way possible. The vicar showed more life than the congregation.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – Eccentric, definitely. It wasn't a sermon, more of a chat. The vicar's text had nothing to do with the readings we had so carefully listened to. He was full of the joys of spring but appeared to find the ground very difficult going!

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
What does it mean to be a group of Christians? The early Christians devoted themselves to the apostles' teachings; why aren't we doing the same? Their fellowship and common life meant they stood out among others. We don't do that, so we get ignored by the rest of the world. We are not all called (although some may be) to give up everything we possess, but we must nevertheless take responsibility for what God has given us to steward. Do we regard the breaking of bread as communion or shared lunch? It is right to be dignified, unforgiveable to be dull. (It would have been nice if the congregation had been taking all this to heart.) He finished with a plug for the Church Weekend at the end of May and told us that if we got things right our church would grow.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The sheer friendliness of the congregation. People welcomed us warmly and freely engaged us in conversation. It was neither underdone nor overdone.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
After communion we said the gloria in the most dull and boring way conceivable. This was followed by the singing of "Thine be the glory" at funereal speed. I wanted to sit down and howl!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We didn't get a chance. There was someone waiting to say hello whilst we were still saying our final prayers. We were offered coffee by at least two people, and every time anyone moved on, the next person would come and say hello. They wanted to introduce us to everyone!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee or tea, hot and in mugs. There was also some rather anaemic orange squash and a wonderful array of biscuits, multiple choice, and all the nice ones!

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – The liturgy was a bit too odd.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
The service didn't particularly, but the sheer friendliness of the congregation did.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The contrast between the gloomy service and the wonderful atmosphere once the formalities were over!
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